Church suffers second burglary in a week; pew set on fire

Posted at 6:51 PM, Feb 04, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-04 18:51:55-05

MUSKEGON TOWNSHIP, Mich. -- United Church of God in Muskegon Township is regarded as a sacred place where all are welcome. However, pastor Lynnette Gillett says someone decided to bring their sins to the church after hours.

"I was surprised we got broke into," Gillett said. "Not that we're anybody special, but we haven't had any problems at all in this neighborhood."

The church now has two problems on its hands: a burglar and an arsonist who apparently broke through the nursery window, walked by a picture of Jesus and set fire to a pew.
The damage was discovered Friday morning by church staff, who called 911.

"And they brought in Kent County's K-9 unit," Gillett said. "The dog smelled accelerant on more than one pew and up the aisle. There was a small can that they had left."

Cleaning crews worked to clear heavy smoke damage, soot and ashes, but the church building wasn't consumed. "As I was talking to the fire chief, he said this fire was meant to take down your building but it didn't," Gillett recalled. "A higher power put this fire out."

Gillett said the burglar actually broke in twice. The second time was Wednesday night when a stereo was stolen from Gillett's office. But she's not holding a grudge and is willing to forgive. When asked if she has words for the person or people responsible, she said, "My message would be, 'Church starts at 10:30 on Sunday morning if you need a place to go to church.'"

Gillett said the congregation had only been back in the building for the past month. It had been under construction because straight lines winds and heavy rain damaged the inside and outside of the building in April 2014.

Because of the extensive cleaning process to clear the soot from the brick, wood and soft surfaces in the church, she figures the congregation will worship in the fellowship hall for the next three months.

She's thankful Northway Lanes bowling alley allowed the congregation to worship at its facility last Sunday.

Police are investigating the incident. If you have any information, call Silent Observer at 231-72-CRIME.